Sometimes, all it takes is a moment for fate to step in and help a person find his or her passion in life.
That was certainly the case with York-Adams League boys’ basketball official Dave Concino.
Long known as one of the top referees in the York-Adams chapter of basketball officials, Concino will hang up his striped uniform and whistle in a few weeks at the conclusion of his 44th season.
However, had it not been for a seemingly minor set of circumstances in the winter of 1975, the York Catholic High School graduate may have never discovered his true calling.
Pivotal moment: Back in his college days during the early 1970s at Kentucky Wesleyan, Concino was actively involved in the school’s intramural basketball program. Whenever his team was not playing in a game on a given night, the now 66-year-old Concino was typically officiating other intramural games.
“I would volunteer to officiate the other teams’ games in the intramural league,” Concino said. “And one of my fraternity brothers who officiated basketball in Kentucky knew that I helped out reffing these intramural games. So when his partner backed out of the championship game for a (Catholic Youth Organization), he asked me at the last minute to fill in. I’m glad that I did.”
Concino can still remember almost everything from that fateful day, which altered his life.
“I remember walking into that gym and it was packed,” he said. “And the adrenaline rush from that made me just say to myself, ‘yeah, I want to do this.’”
Becoming a high school official: After graduating college and coming back home to York County, Concino signed up to be a scholastic basketball official in 1975. Back in those days, officials were not paid handsomely.
“I believe I made seven dollars,” he said with a laugh.
Money did not play a big part in the decision to pursue a career in officiating for Concino, who worked his way up the ranks before eventually earning the honor of officiating the PIAA Class 4-A boys’ basketball state championship game at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College back in 2008.
“We obviously don’t do it for the money,” Concino said. “In fact we in the York-Adams League chapter took a pay cut a few years ago to be able to put three officials on the floor because that’s how important we felt that it was to have three officials on the floor for all games.”
State title game memories: While there are many memories over more than four decades of officiating, a few still stick out. The biggest was that state championship game back in March of 2008. He was paired with fellow Y-A chapter peers John Eyster and Steve Keller for the contest between District 1 champion Chester and District 1 runner-up Norristown.
“None of us had ever worked up there,” he said. “And to do that game under the bright lights was certainly my No. 1 memory.”
Playoff games at Hersheypark Arena, as well as at Martz Hall in Pottsville, also stick out to Concino.
Marriage proposal: Outside of the state championship game, however, the other biggest night on a basketball court actually happened in York County at York Suburban High School.
The reason for that memory, however, had little to do with officiating.
“Before a game that I had back in 2000, I proposed to my wife (Jane) at York Suburban,” he said. “So I came out and dropped down to one knee and proposed to her … and then I did the game.”
Fortunately for the Hanover resident, he made the "right" call that night.
“Luckily she said yes,” he said with a laugh. “But I had a pretty good feeling that she would.”
Will continue as evaluator: While Concino’s days on the court are numbered, that doesn’t mean that he’ll be away from the game. In fact he expects to continue as an evaluator of his peers for the foreseeable future.
“When I actually take my feet off the court, I’ll still be able to remain connected to the game,” he said. “I’ll be evaluating district-level playoff games as well as state level. And I work as a college evaluator for college officials like in the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) and CAC (Capital Athletic Conference).”
Not for everyone: Concino knows that officiating may not be for everyone. The criticism from coaches and fans can certainly shake a person’s confidence. The joy of knowing that he did a good job, however, makes it all worthwhile.
“For me, one of the greatest levels of satisfaction as an official is when you walk off the court after a game and you are able to say you trusted your partners and they trusted you,” he said.
A mentor for his peers: For that reason, Concino would love to see more people pursue officiating across all levels. That’s a big reason why he's been a mentor and resource for all of his peers.
One of the many officials that Concino has helped over his tenure is former Susquehannock girls’ basketball coach Kevin Lawrence, who is the current Red Lion baseball coach as well as a Y-A boys’ basketball official. Lawrence remembers his first encounter with Concino back in his younger days.
“My greatest memory of Dave will always be when he officiated me when I was playing CYO basketball between fifth and eighth grade when I was playing basketball at St. Vincent in Hanover,” Lawrence said. “That would have been from 1985 through 1989. Dave was always my favorite official, not because I knew whether or not his calls were correct, but he was always approachable and treated elementary school kids with the greatest respect.”
That is something that Lawrence admires about Concino.
“In 44 years, Dave Concino has never lost sight of the most important thing in a youth basketball game,” Lawrence said. “And that is the players in the game. He never shows up the players and it’s never about Dave Concino to put on a show or be seen. It’s always in an effort to do what is in the best interest of the men and women that he is officiating.”
Giving and getting respect: Concino credits that philosophy for helping him earn the trust of the area’s coaches over his long career.
“My motto has always been that you have to give respect to get respect,” Concino said. “I think I’ve kind of lived by that with the players and the coaches and that has allowed me to have success with everything that I’ve done.”
While Lawrence has only been officiating basketball for about a decade, he credits his quick ascent up the ranks to Concino. Lawrence and Concino will be paired for Friday’s Y-A Division I showdown between New Oxford and York High.
“The seven championship games (Y-A and District 3) that I’ve been fortunate enough to work are all a credit to Dave Concino,” Lawrence said.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.